By Deb Smith
Hundreds of screaming young people, loud, pulsating music and an undeniably infectious sense of excitement filled the campus air. At first glance, one may have mistaken the event for some sort of rock concert, but it was actually an aviation design contest. Huh?
Yes, close to 500 youth worked into a frothy frenzy over things like manned suborbital flight and space portal design. The guy that can do that must be sort of a magician. Close. The guy that can do that is Burt Rutan.
Rutan, the founder of Scaled Composites, won last year’s Ansari X Prize for designing the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet (twice within the span of a 14-day period). He made a brief appearance at Denver’s Metropolitan State College for the student design competition that bears his name. Hosted by the college’s aviation and aerospace science department and co-sponsored by the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum and Space Voyage, a commercial educational program, the event attracted 85 student teams.
With only two and a half hours on the clock, the event challenged local middle school and high school teams to conceptualize and build rough models of either a spaceport or a small reusable manned space vehicle. Rutan judged the final round of competition along with Jeff Forrest, aviation and aerospace department chair, and Captain Willie Daniels, Shades of Blue founder and 1977 Metro State alumni.
Middle school contestants were asked to design and build a model of a spaceport in Colorado. The WASTYT (We Are Smarter Than You Think) team from Haxtun Jr. High took first place. The judges commented on the students’ teamwork as well as excellent design and presentation, and their enthusiasm. Rutan noted the “fire in their eyes.”
Second place went to EMS-2 from Eagleview Middle School, Colorado Springs, and third place was awarded to Space Voyage Beta 1 from Lakewood Middle School.
High school students were asked to design and build a spacecraft to serve as a “spaceliner” that could transport one pilot and five passengers from a Spaceport in Colorado to Sydney Australia. First place honors went to the Galactic Cats, Lakewood High School. The second place winners were the Pink Panthers from Vail Christian High School, and the third place team was Lightning One, from Legacy High School, Broomfield.
Judges noted that the Galactic Cats showed “a strong technical solution to take their spacecraft to Hotel Rutan, an orbiting hotel some 400 miles above the earth, then on to Sydney.”
“The Galactic Cats had excellent problem-solving skills and shared leadership,” judges said.
First place teams received a $500 prize, a commemorative medal and a free week at Space Voyage Academy.
While at Metro, Rutan made a prediction. He told students that private space travel was no longer something out of their reach. In fact, it was something that will most likely be available to them in the very near future.
“Right now, in 15 years, every one of you kids will know that, if you really want to, you can go into orbit in your lifetime,” he said.
See page C-14 to read more of Burt Rutan’s comments about the
future of space travel.